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Boston Marathon Bomber Sentenced to Death


John Burger - published on 05/15/15 - updated on 06/07/17

Jury opts for capital punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Despite pleas from Massachussetts bishops and a Catholic nun, a jury in Boston Friday sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.

Tsarnaev, 21, was convicted last month by the same federal jury of multiple counts of murder in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The worst act of domestic terrorism since 9/11, the bombing claimed three lives and injured hundreds of people.

The jury of seven women and five men took more than 14 hours to reach a decision. According to the New York Times:

In reaching its decision, the jury found that Mr. Tsarnaev had shown no remorse for his actions, and it rejected the defense argument that his older brother, Tamerlan, a self-radicalized jihadist, had brainwashed him into joining in the bombings.

In April that same jury had convicted Tsarnaev of 30 charges, including 17 that carry the death penalty. When the penalty phase of the trial opened, Tsarnaev’s defense team struggled to win a life imprisonment term for him, enlisting the help, among others, of death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean. The author of Dead Man Walking testified that he expressed genuine sorrow for the victims.

“No one deserves to suffer like they did,” Sister Helen quoted him as saying. She described meeting Tsarnaev five times over the past year at the request of defense lawyers, according to Reuters. CNN reported her testifying: “I’m not sure he’d ever met a nun before, but he was very open and receptive. It was pleasant.” She said that she detected pain in his voice as they spoke. The two discussed religion, including the differences between Catholicism and Islam, and Tsarnaev appeared sincere when he told her he was sorry for what he’d done, she testified.

But apparently the jurors were swayed by the federal prosecution team. The Times described it this way:

Prosecutors portrayed Mr. Tsarnaev, who immigrated to Cambridge, Mass., from the Russian Caucasus with his family in 2002, as a coldblooded, unrepentant jihadist who sought to kill innocent Americans in retaliation for the deaths of innocent Muslims in American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan….

“After all of the carnage and fear and terror that he has caused, the right decision is clear,” a federal prosecutor, Steven Mellin, said in his closing argument. “The only sentence that will do justice in this case is a sentence of death.”

That decision was not clear to the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which issued a statement April 7 arguing that Tsarnaev be spared of capital punishment.

“The Church has taught that the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are ‘rare, if not practically nonexistent,’” the conference statement said, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “The Church’s teaching is further developing in recognition of the inherent dignity of all life as a gift from God. As Pope Francis has recently stated, ‘[The death penalty] is an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person. When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of oppression, but rather for an act committed in the past. It is also applied to persons whose current ability to cause harm is not current, as it has been neutralized—they are already deprived of their liberty.’”

The statement, signed by Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and the bishops of the state’s three other dioceses, noted that Tsarnaev has already been “neutralized and will never again have the ability to cause harm.”

Boston Archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon said today he did not expect any further comments at this time from Cardinal O’Malley.

The Times noted that an appeal likely will be filed, and it may take years to resolve. It is for that reason that the parents of the bombing’s youngest victim made a public appeal following the guilt phase of the trial that the death penalty be avoided. In an opinion piece for the Boston Globe, Bill and Denise Richards asked that their son’s killer’s life be spared. 

"Now that the tireless and committed prosecution team has ensured that justice will be served, we urge the Department of Justice to bring the case to a close. We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of release and waiving all of his rights to appeal," the couple wrote.

Dzhokhar and his brother, Tamerlan, planted two bombs that went off within 12 seconds of each other at the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15, 2013. The explosions killed the Richards’ 8-year-old son, Martin, and maimed their 7-year-old daughter, Jane. "The continued pursuit of [capital] punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives. We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring," the Richards wrote. 

Theoretically, it is not easy for jurors to sign off on the death penalty. As the Times noted:

Before they could decide that Mr. Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty, the jurors had to wade through a complicated, 24-page verdict slip. On it, they had to weigh the aggravating factors that would justify his death as well as the mitigating factors, presented by the defense, that would argue for him to live.

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